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Arizona joins majority of nation in enacting texting while driving ban

PHOENIX — Arizona joined the majority of the nation in enacting a ban against texting and driving on Monday, four months after a Valley police officer was struck and killed by a man who admitted to texting behind the wheel.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2318 into law during a ceremony attended by advocates, law enforcement, lawmakers and the family of Salt River Officer Clayton Townsend.

“Let’s send a message that that text message can wait. It’s not worth your life,” Ducey said.

The proposal makes it illegal to drive while holding a mobile device. Devices that can be used in a hands-free mode or are integrated with the vehicle’s control interface are exempt.

The bill prescribed fines of $75 to $149 for first offenses and $150 to $250 for subsequent violations.

The law will take effect in January 2021 and will supersede existing statues in cities such as Phoenix, Tempe and Surprise. Officers will issue warnings until the law goes into effect.

“This is a bill to change behaviors. This is a bill so that people will not be on their phone, so they won’t be texting, so they’ll actually change that behavior,” Ducey told reporters after the event.

“The objective here is not to write tickets, it’s to save lives.”

Townsend was killed in January after 40-year-old Jerry Sanstead allegedly struck him while driving on Loop 101 near McDowell Road.

Townsend was conducting a traffic stop when Sanstead crossed two lanes of the highway.

Townsend sustained head trauma from the crash and later died at a hospital.

The accident sparked a renewed effort by Arizona lawmakers to get legislation banning texting and driving to the governor’s desk.

Republican Sen. Kate Brophy McGee first introduced a texting and driving ban in January, but the legislation that eventually passed both chambers was a less severe version introduced in the House by GOP Rep. Noel Campbell.

The Arizona Legislature advanced the bill last week, after it passed the House with a 44-16 vote and the Senate with a 20-9 vote.

Townsend’s mother Toni told reporters that the passing of the law was “long overdue.”

“We need to change our behaviors today and start today. We don’t have to wait for the law. A lot of lives can be saved and we’re going to start today, we’re educating starting today,” Toni Townsend said.

Toni Morales Broberg, the president of AT&T Arizona, praised the governor’s move in a statement. “This legislation will help ensure safer roads and remind all drivers that it can wait.”

A separate proposal by Republican Sen. J.D. Mesnard, Senate Bill 1141, also passed the Legislature on Thursday by a 31-29 vote.

If signed by Ducey, it would outlaw any behavior behind the wheel that wasn’t related to driving if it caused an “immediate hazard” or prevented the driver from controlling their vehicles. But it didn’t expressly ban texting while driving or propose penalties.

Arizona’s move on Monday means Montana is the only state with no restriction on texting and driving, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Multiple metro Phoenix cities, including Phoenix, Surprise and Tempe, already had some form of law against drivers using cellphones or other handheld devices.

A law banning teenage drivers in Arizona from using cellphones went into effect last year.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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